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G.R. No.

148132

January 28, 2008

SMART COMMUNICATIONS, INC., petitioner,


vs.
REGINA M. ASTORGA, respondent.
x---------------------------------------------------x
G.R. No. 151079

January 28, 2008

SMART COMMUNICATIONS, INC., petitioner,


vs.
REGINA M. ASTORGA, respondent.
x---------------------------------------------------x
G.R. No. 151372

January 28, 2008

REGINA M. ASTORGA, petitioner,


vs.
SMART COMMUNICATIONS, INC. and ANN MARGARET V. SANTIAGO, respondents.
DECISION
NACHURA, J.:
For the resolution of the Court are three consolidated petitions for review on certiorari under Rule 45
of the Rules of Court. G.R. No. 148132 assails the February 28, 2000 Decision 1 and the May 7, 2001
Resolution2 of the Court of Appeals (CA) in CA-G.R. SP. No. 53831. G.R. Nos. 151079 and 151372
question the June 11, 2001 Decision 3and the December 18, 2001 Resolution4 in CA-G.R. SP. No.
57065.
Regina M. Astorga (Astorga) was employed by respondent Smart Communications, Incorporated
(SMART) on May 8, 1997 as District Sales Manager of the Corporate Sales Marketing Group/ Fixed
Services Division (CSMG/FSD). She was receiving a monthly salary of P33,650.00. As District Sales
Manager, Astorga enjoyed additional benefits, namely, annual performance incentive equivalent to
30% of her annual gross salary, a group life and hospitalization insurance coverage, and a car plan
in the amount of P455,000.00.5
In February 1998, SMART launched an organizational realignment to achieve more efficient
operations. This was made known to the employees on February 27, 1998. 6 Part of the
reorganization was the outsourcing of the marketing and sales force. Thus, SMART entered into a
joint venture agreement with NTT of Japan, and formed SMART-NTT Multimedia, Incorporated
(SNMI). Since SNMI was formed to do the sales and marketing work, SMART abolished the
CSMG/FSD, Astorgas division.
To soften the blow of the realignment, SNMI agreed to absorb the CSMG personnel who would be
recommended by SMART. SMART then conducted a performance evaluation of CSMG personnel
and those who garnered the highest ratings were favorably recommended to SNMI. Astorga landed
last in the performance evaluation, thus, she was not recommended by SMART. SMART,

nonetheless, offered her a supervisory position in the Customer Care Department, but she refused
the offer because the position carried lower salary rank and rate.
Despite the abolition of the CSMG/FSD, Astorga continued reporting for work. But on March 3, 1998,
SMART issued a memorandum advising Astorga of the termination of her employment on ground of
redundancy, effective April 3, 1998. Astorga received it on March 16, 1998. 7
The termination of her employment prompted Astorga to file a Complaint 8 for illegal dismissal, nonpayment of salaries and other benefits with prayer for moral and exemplary damages against
SMART and Ann Margaret V. Santiago (Santiago). She claimed that abolishing CSMG and,
consequently, terminating her employment was illegal for it violated her right to security of tenure.
She also posited that it was illegal for an employer, like SMART, to contract out services which will
displace the employees, especially if the contractor is an in-house agency.9
SMART responded that there was valid termination. It argued that Astorga was dismissed by reason
of redundancy, which is an authorized cause for termination of employment, and the dismissal was
effected in accordance with the requirements of the Labor Code. The redundancy of Astorgas
position was the result of the abolition of CSMG and the creation of a specialized and more
technically equipped SNMI, which is a valid and legitimate exercise of management prerogative. 10
In the meantime, on May 18, 1998, SMART sent a letter to Astorga demanding that she pay the
current market value of the Honda Civic Sedan which was given to her under the companys car plan
program, or to surrender the same to the company for proper disposition. 11 Astorga, however, failed
and refused to do either, thus prompting SMART to file a suit for replevin with the Regional Trial
Court of Makati (RTC) on August 10, 1998. The case was docketed as Civil Case No. 98-1936 and
was raffled to Branch 57.12
Astorga moved to dismiss the complaint on grounds of (i) lack of jurisdiction; (ii) failure to state a
cause of action; (iii) litis pendentia; and (iv) forum-shopping. Astorga posited that the regular courts
have no jurisdiction over the complaint because the subject thereof pertains to a benefit arising from
an employment contract; hence, jurisdiction over the same is vested in the labor tribunal and not in
regular courts.13
Pending resolution of Astorgas motion to dismiss the replevin case, the Labor Arbiter rendered a
Decision14dated August 20, 1998, declaring Astorgas dismissal from employment illegal. While
recognizing SMARTs right to abolish any of its departments, the Labor Arbiter held that such right
should be exercised in good faith and for causes beyond its control. The Arbiter found the abolition
of CSMG done neither in good faith nor for causes beyond the control of SMART, but a ploy to
terminate Astorgas employment. The Arbiter also ruled that contracting out the functions performed
by Astorga to an in-house agency like SNMI was illegal, citing Section 7(e), Rule VIII-A of the Rules
Implementing the Labor Code.
Accordingly, the Labor Arbiter ordered:
WHEREFORE, judgment is hereby rendered declaring the dismissal of [Astorga] to be illegal
and unjust. [SMART and Santiago] are hereby ordered to:
1. Reinstate [Astorga] to [her] former position or to a substantially equivalent position, without
loss of seniority rights and other privileges, with full backwages, inclusive of allowances and
other benefits from the time of [her] dismissal to the date of reinstatement, which computed
as of this date, are as follows:

(a)

Astorga
BACKWAGES; (P33,650.00 x 4 months)

= P134,600.00

UNPAID SALARIES (February 15, 1998-April 3,


1998
February 15-28, 1998

= P 16,823.00

March 1-31, [1998]

= P 33,650.00

April 1-3, 1998

= P 3,882.69

CAR MAINTENANCE ALLOWANCE


(P2,000.00 x 4)

= P 8,000.00

FUEL ALLOWANCE
(300 liters/mo. x 4 mos. at P12.04/liter)

= P 14,457.83
TOTAL = P211,415.52

xxxx
3. Jointly and severally pay moral damages in the amount of P500,000.00 x x x and
exemplary damages in the amount of P300,000.00. x x x
4. Jointly and severally pay 10% of the amount due as attorneys fees.
SO ORDERED.15
Subsequently, on March 29, 1999, the RTC issued an Order 16 denying Astorgas motion to dismiss
the replevin case. In so ruling, the RTC ratiocinated that:
Assessing the [submission] of the parties, the Court finds no merit in the motion to dismiss.
As correctly pointed out, this case is to enforce a right of possession over a company car
assigned to the defendant under a car plan privilege arrangement. The car is registered in
the name of the plaintiff. Recovery thereof via replevin suit is allowed by Rule 60 of the 1997
Rules of Civil Procedure, which is undoubtedly within the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial
Court.
In the Complaint, plaintiff claims to be the owner of the company car and despite demand,
defendant refused to return said car. This is clearly sufficient statement of plaintiffs cause of
action.
Neither is there forum shopping. The element of litis penden[t]ia does not appear to exist
because the judgment in the labor dispute will not constitute res judicata to bar the filing of
this case.
WHEREFORE, the Motion to Dismiss is hereby denied for lack of merit.
SO ORDERED.17
Astorga filed a motion for reconsideration, but the RTC denied it on June 18, 1999. 18

Astorga elevated the denial of her motion via certiorari to the CA, which, in its February 28, 2000
Decision,19reversed the RTC ruling. Granting the petition and, consequently, dismissing
the replevin case, the CA held that the case is intertwined with Astorgas complaint for illegal
dismissal; thus, it is the labor tribunal that has rightful jurisdiction over the complaint. SMARTs
motion for reconsideration having been denied,20 it elevated the case to this Court, now docketed as
G.R. No. 148132.
Meanwhile, SMART also appealed the unfavorable ruling of the Labor Arbiter in the illegal dismissal
case to the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC). In its September 27, 1999 Decision, 21 the
NLRC sustained Astorgas dismissal. Reversing the Labor Arbiter, the NLRC declared the abolition of
CSMG and the creation of SNMI to do the sales and marketing services for SMART a valid
organizational action. It overruled the Labor Arbiters ruling that SNMI is an in-house agency, holding
that it lacked legal basis. It also declared that contracting, subcontracting and streamlining of
operations for the purpose of increasing efficiency are allowed under the law. The NLRC further
found erroneous the Labor Arbiters disquisition that redundancy to be valid must be impelled by
economic reasons, and upheld the redundancy measures undertaken by SMART.
The NLRC disposed, thus:
WHEREFORE, the Decision of the Labor Arbiter is hereby reversed and set aside. [Astorga]
is further ordered to immediately return the company vehicle assigned to her. [Smart and
Santiago] are hereby ordered to pay the final wages of [Astorga] after [she] had submitted
the required supporting papers therefor.
SO ORDERED.22
Astorga filed a motion for reconsideration, but the NLRC denied it on December 21, 1999. 23
Astorga then went to the CA via certiorari. On June 11, 2001, the CA rendered a Decision24 affirming
with modification the resolutions of the NLRC. In gist, the CA agreed with the NLRC that the
reorganization undertaken by SMART resulting in the abolition of CSMG was a legitimate exercise of
management prerogative. It rejected Astorgas posturing that her non-absorption into SNMI was
tainted with bad faith. However, the CA found that SMART failed to comply with the mandatory onemonth notice prior to the intended termination. Accordingly, the CA imposed a penalty equivalent to
Astorgas one-month salary for this non-compliance. The CA also set aside the NLRCs order for the
return of the company vehicle holding that this issue is not essentially a labor concern, but is civil in
nature, and thus, within the competence of the regular court to decide. It added that the matter had
not been fully ventilated before the NLRC, but in the regular court.
Astorga filed a motion for reconsideration, while SMART sought partial reconsideration, of the
Decision. On December 18, 2001, the CA resolved the motions, viz.:
WHEREFORE, [Astorgas] motion for reconsideration is hereby PARTIALLY GRANTED.
[Smart] is hereby ordered to pay [Astorga] her backwages from 15 February 1998 to 06
November 1998. [Smarts] motion for reconsideration is outrightly DENIED.
SO ORDERED.25
Astorga and SMART came to us with their respective petitions for review assailing the CA ruling,
docketed as G.R Nos. 151079 and 151372. On February 27, 2002, this Court ordered the
consolidation of these petitions with G.R. No. 148132. 26

In her Memorandum, Astorga argues:


I
THE COURT OF APPEALS ERRED IN UPHOLDING THE VALIDITY OF ASTORGAS
DISMISSAL DESPITE THE FACT THAT HER DISMISSAL WAS EFFECTED IN CLEAR
VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO SECURITY OF TENURE,
CONSIDERING THAT THERE WAS NO GENUINE GROUND FOR HER DISMISSAL.
II
SMARTS REFUSAL TO REINSTATE ASTORGA DURING THE PENDENCY OF THE
APPEAL AS REQUIRED BY ARTICLE 223 OF THE LABOR CODE, ENTITLES ASTORGA
TO HER SALARIES DURING THE PENDENCY OF THE APPEAL.
III
THE COURT OF APPEALS WAS CORRECT IN HOLDING THAT THE REGIONAL TRIAL
COURT HAS NO JURISDICTION OVER THE COMPLAINT FOR RECOVERY OF A CAR
WHICH ASTORGA ACQUIRED AS PART OF HER EMPLOYEE (sic) BENEFIT.27
On the other hand, Smart in its Memoranda raises the following issues:
I
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS DECIDED A QUESTION OF
SUBSTANCE IN A WAY PROBABLY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW OR WITH APPLICABLE
DECISION OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT AND HAS SO FAR DEPARTED
FROM THE ACCEPTED AND USUAL COURSE OF JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS AS TO
CALL FOR AN EXERCISE OF THE POWER OF SUPERVISION WHEN IT RULED THAT
SMART DID NOT COMPLY WITH THE NOTICE REQUIREMENTS PRIOR TO
TERMINATING ASTORGA ON THE GROUND OF REDUNDANCY.
II
WHETHER THE NOTICES GIVEN BY SMART TO ASTORGA AND THE DEPARTMENT OF
LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT ARE SUBSTANTIAL COMPLIANCE WITH THE NOTICE
REQUIREMENTS BEFORE TERMINATION.
III
WHETHER THE RULE ENUNCIATED IN SERRANO VS. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS
COMMISSION FINDS APPLICATION IN THE CASE AT BAR CONSIDERING THAT IN THE
SERRANO CASE THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO NOTICE AT ALL.28
IV
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS DECIDED A QUESTION OF
SUBSTANCE IN A WAY PROBABLY NOT IN ACCORD WITH LAW OR WITH APPLICABLE
DECISION[S] OF THE HONORABLE SUPREME COURT AND HAS SO FAR DEPARTED
FROM THE ACCEPTED AND USUAL COURSE OF JUDICIAL PROCEEDINGS AS TO

CALL FOR AN EXERCISE OF THE POWER OF SUPERVISION WHEN IT RULED THAT


THE REGIONAL TRIAL COURT DOES NOT HAVE JURISDICTION OVER THE
COMPLAINT FOR REPLEVIN FILED BY SMART TO RECOVER ITS OWN COMPANY
VEHICLE FROM A FORMER EMPLOYEE WHO WAS LEGALLY DISMISSED.
V
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS FAILED TO APPRECIATE THAT
THE SUBJECT OF THE REPLEVIN CASE IS NOT THE ENFORCEMENT OF A CAR PLAN
PRIVILEGE BUT SIMPLY THE RECOVERY OF A COMPANY CAR.
VI
WHETHER THE HONORABLE COURT OF APPEALS HAS FAILED TO APPRECIATE THAT
ASTORGA CAN NO LONGER BE CONSIDERED AS AN EMPLOYEE OF SMART UNDER
THE LABOR CODE.29
The Court shall first deal with the propriety of dismissing the replevin case filed with the RTC of
Makati City allegedly for lack of jurisdiction, which is the issue raised in G.R. No. 148132.
Replevin is an action whereby the owner or person entitled to repossession of goods or chattels may
recover those goods or chattels from one who has wrongfully distrained or taken, or who wrongfully
detains such goods or chattels. It is designed to permit one having right to possession to recover
property in specie from one who has wrongfully taken or detained the property.30 The term may refer
either to the action itself, for the recovery of personalty, or to the provisional remedy traditionally
associated with it, by which possession of the property may be obtained by the plaintiff and retained
during the pendency of the action. 31
That the action commenced by SMART against Astorga in the RTC of Makati City was one for
replevin hardly admits of doubt.
In reversing the RTC ruling and consequently dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction, the CA
made the following disquisition, viz.:
[I]t is plain to see that the vehicle was issued to [Astorga] by [Smart] as part of the
employment package. We doubt that [SMART] would extend [to Astorga] the same car plan
privilege were it not for her employment as district sales manager of the company.
Furthermore, there is no civil contract for a loan between [Astorga] and [Smart].
Consequently, We find that the car plan privilege is a benefit arising out of employeremployee relationship. Thus, the claim for such falls squarely within the original and
exclusive jurisdiction of the labor arbiters and the NLRC.32
We do not agree. Contrary to the CAs ratiocination, the RTC rightfully assumed jurisdiction over the
suit and acted well within its discretion in denying Astorgas motion to dismiss. SMARTs demand for
payment of the market value of the car or, in the alternative, the surrender of the car, is not a labor,
but a civil, dispute. It involves the relationship of debtor and creditor rather than employee-employer
relations.33 As such, the dispute falls within the jurisdiction of the regular courts.
In Basaya, Jr. v. Militante,34 this Court, in upholding the jurisdiction of the RTC over the replevin suit,
explained:

Replevin is a possessory action, the gist of which is the right of possession in the plaintiff.
The primary relief sought therein is the return of the property in specie wrongfully detained
by another person. It is an ordinary statutory proceeding to adjudicate rights to the title or
possession of personal property. The question of whether or not a party has the right of
possession over the property involved and if so, whether or not the adverse party has
wrongfully taken and detained said property as to require its return to plaintiff, is outside the
pale of competence of a labor tribunal and beyond the field of specialization of Labor
Arbiters.
xxxx
The labor dispute involved is not intertwined with the issue in the Replevin Case. The
respective issues raised in each forum can be resolved independently on the other. In fact in
18 November 1986, the NLRC in the case before it had issued an Injunctive Writ enjoining
the petitioners from blocking the free ingress and egress to the Vessel and ordering the
petitioners to disembark and vacate. That aspect of the controversy is properly settled under
the Labor Code. So also with petitioners right to picket. But the determination of the question
of who has the better right to take possession of the Vessel and whether petitioners can
deprive the Charterer, as the legal possessor of the Vessel, of that right to possess in
addressed to the competence of Civil Courts.
In thus ruling, this Court is not sanctioning split jurisdiction but defining avenues of
jurisdiction as laid down by pertinent laws.
The CA, therefore, committed reversible error when it overturned the RTC ruling and ordered the
dismissal of the replevin case for lack of jurisdiction.
Having resolved that issue, we proceed to rule on the validity of Astorgas dismissal.
Astorga was terminated due to redundancy, which is one of the authorized causes for the dismissal
of an employee. The nature of redundancy as an authorized cause for dismissal is explained in the
leading case ofWiltshire File Co., Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission,35 viz:
x x x redundancy in an employers personnel force necessarily or even ordinarily refers to
duplication of work. That no other person was holding the same position that private
respondent held prior to termination of his services does not show that his position had not
become redundant. Indeed, in any well organized business enterprise, it would be surprising
to find duplication of work and two (2) or more people doing the work of one person. We
believe that redundancy, for purposes of the Labor Code, exists where the services of an
employee are in excess of what is reasonably demanded by the actual requirements of the
enterprise. Succinctly put, a position is redundant where it is superfluous, and superfluity of a
position or positions may be the outcome of a number of factors, such as overhiring of
workers, decreased volume of business, or dropping of a particular product line or service
activity previously manufactured or undertaken by the enterprise.
The characterization of an employees services as superfluous or no longer necessary and,
therefore, properly terminable, is an exercise of business judgment on the part of the employer. The
wisdom and soundness of such characterization or decision is not subject to discretionary review
provided, of course, that a violation of law or arbitrary or malicious action is not shown. 36
Astorga claims that the termination of her employment was illegal and tainted with bad faith. She
asserts that the reorganization was done in order to get rid of her. But except for her barefaced

allegation, no convincing evidence was offered to prove it. This Court finds it extremely difficult to
believe that SMART would enter into a joint venture agreement with NTT, form SNMI and abolish
CSMG/FSD simply for the sole purpose of easing out a particular employee, such as Astorga.
Moreover, Astorga never denied that SMART offered her a supervisory position in the Customer
Care Department, but she refused the offer because the position carried a lower salary rank and
rate. If indeed SMART simply wanted to get rid of her, it would not have offered her a position in any
department in the enterprise.
Astorga also states that the justification advanced by SMART is not true because there was no
compelling economic reason for redundancy. But contrary to her claim, an employer is not precluded
from adopting a new policy conducive to a more economical and effective management even if it is
not experiencing economic reverses. Neither does the law require that the employer should suffer
financial losses before he can terminate the services of the employee on the ground of
redundancy. 37
We agree with the CA that the organizational realignment introduced by SMART, which culminated in
the abolition of CSMG/FSD and termination of Astorgas employment was an honest effort to make
SMARTs sales and marketing departments more efficient and competitive. As the CA had taken
pains to elucidate:
x x x a careful and assiduous review of the records will yield no other conclusion than that
the reorganization undertaken by SMART is for no purpose other than its declared objective
as a labor and cost savings device. Indeed, this Court finds no fault in SMARTs decision to
outsource the corporate sales market to SNMI in order to attain greater productivity.
[Astorga] belonged to the Sales Marketing Group under the Fixed Services Division
(CSMG/FSD), a distinct sales force of SMART in charge of selling SMARTs
telecommunications services to the corporate market. SMART, to ensure it can respond
quickly, efficiently and flexibly to its customers requirement, abolished CSMG/FSD and
shortly thereafter assigned its functions to newly-created SNMI Multimedia Incorporated, a
joint venture company of SMART and NTT of Japan, for the reason that CSMG/FSD does
not have the necessary technical expertise required for the value added services. By
transferring the duties of CSMG/FSD to SNMI, SMART has created a more competent and
specialized organization to perform the work required for corporate accounts. It is also
relieved SMART of all administrative costs management, time and money-needed in
maintaining the CSMG/FSD. The determination to outsource the duties of the CSMG/FSD to
SNMI was, to Our mind, a sound business judgment based on relevant criteria and is
therefore a legitimate exercise of management prerogative.
Indeed, out of our concern for those lesser circumstanced in life, this Court has inclined towards the
worker and upheld his cause in most of his conflicts with his employer. This favored treatment is
consonant with the social justice policy of the Constitution. But while tilting the scales of justice in
favor of workers, the fundamental law also guarantees the right of the employer to reasonable
returns for his investment.38 In this light, we must acknowledge the prerogative of the employer to
adopt such measures as will promote greater efficiency, reduce overhead costs and enhance
prospects of economic gains, albeit always within the framework of existing laws. Accordingly, we
sustain the reorganization and redundancy program undertaken by SMART.
However, as aptly found by the CA, SMART failed to comply with the mandated one (1) month notice
prior to termination. The record is clear that Astorga received the notice of termination only on March
16, 199839 or less than a month prior to its effectivity on April 3, 1998. Likewise, the Department of
Labor and Employment was notified of the redundancy program only on March 6, 1998. 40

Article 283 of the Labor Code clearly provides:


Art. 283. Closure of establishment and reduction of personnel. The employer may also
terminate the employment of any employee due to the installation of labor saving devices,
redundancy, retrenchment to prevent losses or the closing or cessation of operation of the
establishment or undertaking unless the closing is for the purpose of circumventing the
provisions of this Title, by serving a written notice on the workers and the Ministry of Labor
and Employment at least one (1) month before the intended date thereof x x x.
SMARTs assertion that Astorga cannot complain of lack of notice because the organizational
realignment was made known to all the employees as early as February 1998 fails to persuade.
Astorgas actual knowledge of the reorganization cannot replace the formal and written notice
required by the law. In the written notice, the employees are informed of the specific date of the
termination, at least a month prior to the effectivity of such termination, to give them sufficient time to
find other suitable employment or to make whatever arrangements are needed to cushion the impact
of termination. In this case, notwithstanding Astorgas knowledge of the reorganization, she
remained uncertain about the status of her employment until SMART gave her formal notice of
termination. But such notice was received by Astorga barely two (2) weeks before the effective date
of termination, a period very much shorter than that required by law.
Be that as it may, this procedural infirmity would not render the termination of Astorgas employment
illegal. The validity of termination can exist independently of the procedural infirmity of the
dismissal.41 In DAP Corporation v. CA,42 we found the dismissal of the employees therein valid and
for authorized cause even if the employer failed to comply with the notice requirement under Article
283 of the Labor Code. This Court upheld the dismissal, but held the employer liable for noncompliance with the procedural requirements.
The CA, therefore, committed no reversible error in sustaining Astorgas dismissal and at the same
time, awarding indemnity for violation of Astorga's statutory rights.
However, we find the need to modify, by increasing, the indemnity awarded by the CA to Astorga, as
a sanction on SMART for non-compliance with the one-month mandatory notice requirement, in light
of our ruling in Jaka Food Processing Corporation v. Pacot,43 viz.:
[I]f the dismissal is based on a just cause under Article 282 but the employer failed to comply
with the notice requirement, the sanction to be imposed upon him should
be tempered because the dismissal process was, in effect, initiated by an act imputable to
the employee, and (2) if the dismissal is based on an authorized cause under Article 283 but
the employer failed to comply with the notice requirement, the sanction should
be stiffer because the dismissal process was initiated by the employers exercise of his
management prerogative.
We deem it proper to increase the amount of the penalty on SMART to P50,000.00.
As provided in Article 283 of the Labor Code, Astorga is, likewise, entitled to separation pay
equivalent to at least one (1) month salary or to at least one (1) months pay for every year of
service, whichever is higher. The records show that Astorgas length of service is less than a year.
She is, therefore, also entitled to separation pay equivalent to one (1) month pay.
Finally, we note that Astorga claimed non-payment of wages from February 15, 1998. This assertion
was never rebutted by SMART in the proceedings a quo. No proof of payment was presented by
SMART to disprove the allegation. It is settled that in labor cases, the burden of proving payment of

monetary claims rests on the employer.44 SMART failed to discharge the onus probandi. Accordingly,
it must be held liable for Astorgas salary from February 15, 1998 until the effective date of her
termination, on April 3, 1998.
However, the award of backwages to Astorga by the CA should be deleted for lack of basis.
Backwages is a relief given to an illegally dismissed employee. Thus, before backwages may be
granted, there must be a finding of unjust or illegal dismissal from work. 45 The Labor Arbiter ruled that
Astorga was illegally dismissed. But on appeal, the NLRC reversed the Labor Arbiters ruling and
categorically declared Astorgas dismissal valid. This ruling was affirmed by the CA in its assailed
Decision. Since Astorgas dismissal is for an authorized cause, she is not entitled to backwages. The
CAs award of backwages is totally inconsistent with its finding of valid dismissal.
WHEREFORE, the petition of SMART docketed as G.R. No. 148132 is GRANTED. The February
28, 2000 Decision and the May 7, 2001 Resolution of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP. No.
53831 are SET ASIDE. The Regional Trial Court of Makati City, Branch 57 is DIRECTED to proceed
with the trial of Civil Case No. 98-1936 and render its Decision with reasonable dispatch.
On the other hand, the petitions of SMART and Astorga docketed as G.R. Nos. 151079 and 151372
are DENIED. The June 11, 2001 Decision and the December 18, 2001 Resolution in CA-G.R. SP.
No. 57065, are AFFIRMEDwith MODIFICATION. Astorga is declared validly dismissed. However,
SMART is ordered to pay AstorgaP50,000.00 as indemnity for its non-compliance with procedural
due process, her separation pay equivalent to one (1) month pay, and her salary from February 15,
1998 until the effective date of her termination on April 3, 1998. The award of backwages
is DELETED for lack of basis.
SO ORDERED.
ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA
Associate Justice

WE CONCUR:
CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO
Associate Justice
Chairperson
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
Associate Justice

RENATO C. CORONA
Associate Justice

RUBEN T. REYES
Associate Justice

ATTESTATION
I attest that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case
was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.

CONSUELO YNARES-SANTIAGO
Associate Justice
Chairperson, Third Division

CERTIFICATION
Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution and the Division Chairpersons Attestation, I
certify that the conclusions in the above Decision had been reached in consultation before the case
was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Courts Division.
REYNATO S. PUNO
Chief Justice

SMART COMMUNICATIONS INC. vs.


ASTORGA
FACTS:
Regina M. Astorga is an employee of Smart Communications
Inc. as District Sales Manager of the Corporate Sales Marketing
Group/ Fixed Services Division.
Later, Smart launched an organizational alignment aiming for
efficiency. A part of the reorganization, Smart outsourced its
marketing and sales force by entering into a joint venture with
NTT of Japan. The division where Astorga belongs to was
abolished as a result.
Astorga was not recommended for retention as per the abolition
of her division. Smart sought to transfer Astorga to its Customer
Care Division as a supervisor, but the latter refused because

the position is lower in rank and has a lower pay. She persisted
to report for work.
Smart issued a memorandum advising Astorga of her
termination on ground of redundancy. Astorga then filed a
complaint for illegal dismissal against Smart before the Labor
Arbiter.
ISSUE:
Whether or not the termination of Astorga is illegal.
RULING:
No. Redundancy is a valid ground for termination.
RATIO:
We believe that redundancy, for purposes of the Labor Code,
exists where the services of an employee are in excess of what
is reasonably demanded by the actual requirements of the
enterprise. Succinctly put, a position is redundant where it is
superfluous
Wiltshire File Co., Inc. v. National Labor Relations Commission
The characterization of an employees services as superfluous
or no longer necessary and, therefore, properly terminable, is

an exercise of business judgment on the part of the employer.


The wisdom and soundness of such characterization or decision
is not subject to discretionary review provided, of course, that a
violation of law or arbitrary or malicious action is not shown.
Astorga claims that the termination of her employment was
illegal and tainted with bad faith. She asserts that the
reorganization was done in order to get rid of her. But except
for her barefaced allegation, no convincing evidence was
offered to prove it.

REDUNDANCY DUE TO
OUTSOURCING/ABOLITION OF POSITION
(LABOR CASE DIGEST No. 2)
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Manifesting its disappointing behavior again, at least from the employees point of view, the Supreme
Court of the Philippines upheld another decision of lower appellate courts as regards the
controversial management prerogative. In SMART Communications, Inc. vs. Regina M. Astorga,
with G.R. No. 148132, the high court ruled that Regina Astorga, a former District Sales Manager of
the Corporate Sales Marketing Group/Fixed Services Division (CSMG/FSD) of Smart
Communications, Inc. (SMART), was validly terminated due to redundancy, which is an authorized
cause for the dismissal of an employee.
Background
Grievance, Mediation, Arbitration and Appeals
Regina was employed by Smart Communications, Inc. (SMART) as District Sales Manager of the
Corporate Sales Marketing Group/ Fixed Services Division (CSMG/FSD) on May 8, 1997.
SMART launched an organizational realignment to achieve more efficient operations. Part of the
reorganization was the outsourcing of the marketing and sales force. Thus, SMART entered into a
joint venture agreement with NTT of Japan, and formed SMART-NTT Multimedia, Incorporated

(SNMI). Since SNMI was formed to do the sales and marketing work, SMART abolished the
CSMG/FSD, Reginas division.
To soften the blow of the realignment, SNMI agreed to absorb the CSMG personnel who garnered
the highest ratings and who were favorably recommended to SNMI. Regina landed last in the
performance evaluation, thus, she was not recommended by SMART. SMART, nonetheless, offered
her a supervisory position in the Customer Care Department, but she refused the offer because the
position carried lower salary rank and rate. Despite the abolition of her division, she continued
reporting for work until SMART issued a memorandum March 3, 1998 advising Regina of the
termination of her employment on ground of redundancy.
Regina filed a complaint for illegal dismissal contending that SMART cannot lawfully contract out
services which will displace the employees, especially if the contractor is an in-house agency. She
claimed that abolishing CSMG, thereby terminating her employment, was illegal because it violated
her right to security of tenure. SMART responded that Regina was validly dismissed by reason of
redundancy, an authorized cause for termination of employment under Article 283 of the Labor
Code. The redundancy of Reginas position was the result of the abolition of CSMG and the creation
of a specialized and more technically equipped SNMI, which is a valid and legitimate exercise of
management prerogative.
LABOR ARBITERS DECISION:
The Labor Arbiter (LA) declared Reginas dismissal illegal. While recognizing SMARTs right to
abolish any of its departments, the Labor Arbiter held that such right should be exercised in good
faith and for causes beyond its control. The Arbiter found the abolition of CSMG done neither in good
faith nor for causes beyond the control of SMART, but a ploy to terminate Reginas employment. The
Arbiter also ruled that contracting out the functions performed by Regina to an in-house agency like
SNMI was illegal, citing Section 7(e), Rule VIII-A of the Rules Implementing the Labor Code.
Accordingly, the Labor Arbiter ordered Reginas reinstatement to her former position, without loss of
seniority rights and other privileges, with full backwages, inclusive of all allowances and other
benefits from the time of her dismissal to the date of reinstatement.
NLRC DECISION:
SMART appealed the unfavorable ruling of the LA in the illegal dismissal case to the National Labor
Relations Commission (NLRC). The NLRC reversed the LA decision and sustained Reginas
dismissal. The NLRC declared the abolition of CSMG and the creation of SNMI to do the sales and
marketing services for SMART a valid organizational action, i.e. a management prerogative. It also
declared that contracting, subcontracting and streamlining of operations for the purpose of
increasing efficiency are allowed under the law. The NLRC further found erroneous the Labor
Arbiters disquisition that redundancy to be valid must be impelled by economic reasons, and upheld
the redundancy measures undertaken by SMART. Regina appealed but her action was denied by the
NLRC on December 21, 1999.

COURT OF APPEALS DECISION:


Regina then appealed the NLRC decision to the Court of Appeals via certiorari. The CA affirmed the
NLRC resolutions that SMARTs reorganization resulting in the abolition of CSMG was a legitimate
exercise of management prerogative. It rejected Reginas posturing that her non-absorption into
SNMI was tainted with bad faith. However, the CA found that SMART failed to comply with the
mandatory one-month notice prior to the intended termination and is thus obliged to pay the
petitioner an equivalent of her one-month salary.
SUPREME COURT RULING:
Regina was validly terminated due to redundancy, an authorized cause for the dismissal of an
employee. The characterization of an employees services as superfluous or no longer necessary
and, therefore, properly terminable, is an exercise of business judgment on the part of the employer.
The wisdom and soundness of such characterization or decision is not subject to discretionary
review provided, of course, that a violation of law or arbitrary or malicious action is not shown.
An employer is not precluded from adopting a new policy conducive to a more economical and
effective management even if it is not experiencing economic reverses. Neither does the law require
that the employer should suffer financial losses before he can terminate the services of the employee
on the ground of redundancy.
The organizational realignment introduced by SMART, which culminated in the abolition of
CSMG/FSD and termination of Reginas employment was an honest effort to make SMARTs sales
and marketing departments more efficient and competitive.
It is the prerogative of the employer to adopt such measures as will promote greater efficiency,
reduce overhead costs and enhance prospects of economic gains, albeit always within the
framework of existing laws. Accordingly, we sustain the reorganization and redundancy program
undertaken by SMART.
However, SMART failed to comply with the one-month notice prior to termination. The record is clear
that Regina received the notice of termination only on March 16, 1998 or less than a month prior to
its effectivity on April 3, 1998. Likewise, the Department of Labor and Employment was notified of the
redundancy program only on March 6, 1998.
SMARTs assertion that Regina cannot complain of lack of notice because the organizational
realignment was made known to all the employees as early as February 1998 fails to sway. Reginas
actual knowledge of the reorganization cannot replace the formal and written notice required by the
law. Notwithstanding her knowledge of the reorganization, she remained uncertain about the status
of her employment until SMART gave her formal notice of termination.

The SC also ruled that it is proper to increase the amount of the penalty on SMART to P50,000.00.
However, the award of backwages to Regina by the CA should be deleted for lack of basis.
Backwages is a relief given to an illegally dismissed employee. Since her dismissal is for an
authorized cause, Regina is not entitled to backwages. The CAs award of backwages is totally
inconsistent with its finding of valid dismissal.
COMMENT:
Based on existing laws and prior decisions such as in DAP vs. CA and Jaka Food Processing
Corporation v. Pacot, the SC decided on yet another landmark decision as regards the so-called
management prerogative largely in favor of an employer. In SMART Communications, Inc. vs.
Regina M. Astorga, the employers management prerogatives is reemphasized as another reason,
or perhaps excuse, for firing employees. Although, it is clear that, as provided for by Article 283 of
the Labor Code, closure of establishment and reduction of personnel is allowed to the extent that the
employer may terminate the employment of any employee due to the installation of labor saving
devices, redundancy, retrenchment to prevent losses or the closing or cessation of operation of the
establishment or undertaking, by serving a written notice on the workers and the Department of
Labor and Employment at least one (1) month before the intended date thereof, SMART cannot
automatically terminate employees after any means directed to satisfy its profit motive. While such
prerogatives must be exercised in good faith and in accordance with law and jurisprudence, in effect,
large companies, corporations and other business establishments may have the tendency to
terminate employment contracts in direct disregard of the security of tenure clause of Art. XIII, Sec. 3
of the Philippine Constitution by issuing memoranda and notices that do not serve as the equivalent
of formal notice of termination. The decision has shown that an employee, such as Regina, may
lawfully lose his employment even if he/she is not at fault.
The SC ruling is another reflection of SCs tendency to back up government schemes of establishing
an investment-friendly climate in the Philippines. Despite the fact that the SC categorically denies
allegations that it bypasses the executive and legislative branches of the government by instituting an
investment-friendly jurisprudence, it is somewhat clear that the Labor movement in the Philippines
can expect more and more SC decisions that incline towards investors and businessmen. Although
the high court is not considered institutionally as a policy-making body of the government,
jurisprudence and matters arising from the decisions of the Supreme Court translate to the creation
of alternative, if not new, economic policies. The SC seems to tread the economic road to the
detriment of workers rights.
- See more at: http://www.learn.org.ph/2010/03/redundancy-due-to-outsourcingabolition-of-positionlabor-case-digest-no-2/#sthash.up5cFyCh.dpuf